Giving Loeries the bird

Racist and sexist in-jokes disguised as South African flavour were the big winners at this year’s Loerie awards, writes Brenda Atkinson

Despite being 21 years old and the last Loerie event of the millennium, this year’s awards were, notwithstanding technological upgrades, a mediocre rite of passage indeed.

The tone for a retrogressively racist and sexist evening was set by the beyond annoying “celebrity” couples who came courtesy of MNet, and who compered each category as if these were advertising’s Oscars. The women, clearly instructed to behave like Lolita on Viagra, giggled and gurgled, practically doing blow-jobs on a script packed with sexual content so blunt it could hardly be called innuendo.
Their manly consorts preened and patronised.

Considering that the Loerie Awards putatively address one of the most sophisticated consumer audiences in the country, an audience awarded for its visual literacy and linguistic lan, it is bizarre that the event’s scriptwriters believe, year after year, that their locker-room banalities will find an appreciative response.

But perhaps they were helpfully preparing us for what would be a long evening of practically uniform retro ideology, a nostalgia for a time when men were white and women and blacks were in their proper place.

A flip through the television category in the annual nicely illustrates the point: of the 12 winners in this category, eight are about boy-bonding, sex, or the hapless white victims of black criminal stupidity in the “new” South Africa.

Not that sex and race are inherently unacceptable targets for humour; it’s just their predictable deployment that grates. BLGK Bates, for example, won gold for an advert that sees a white corporate nerd escape a mugging by chatting to his would- be black mugger in Zulu. “Learn Zulu” is the payoff line for this bit of bigotry, made for client Languagewise’s Zulu language classes.

Another admittedly brilliantly shot ad of this ilk by Net#work, which won a silver for client Hollard Insurance, sees a black female hospital cleaner ripping out the plug of a life-support system so that she can plug in her floor polisher (among other grisly deeds she does in the course of the campaign). “Expect the unexpected”, the ad tells Hollard’s smug white clientele.

Most irritating because it was played every time it won yet another award, was the latest ad in The Jupiter Drawing Room’s Sissy Boy Jeans campaign, which gets women’s magazines routinely pulled from shelves every time it launches a new print offensive. The television campaign has a lascivious brunette in varying degrees of undress caressing herself, pouting, raising her eyebrow, sucking real hard on a cigarette and so on in a caricature of teen masturbation fantasies as she ponders what constitutes infidelity, why men don’t bother what women think (could this be why?), and other perennial problems that beset buxom womankind.

Paradoxically aimed at men, the ads pull in those poor pre-sentient gorillas by making them complicit in, for example, the girl’s soft-focus fantasy of infidelity, and then supposedly kicking them in the groin for being such pushovers. “Wear the pants” is the laughable, rather than laugh-worthy, positioning line.

TBWA Hunt Lascaris for Wonderbra also pulled in awards for pursuing its cute but done-to- death big-tits-are-best line, and, astonishingly, FCB SA got a grand prix in the newspaper category for a Beechies Icebreakers ad called Nipple Stand. This incredible piece of work is a close crop of the most boldly airbrushed, juicily round pair of bikini-clad boobs you’ve ever seen. The breast that’s been caressed by a pack of Beechies tucked into the bikini has an erect nipple. The other doesn’t. Get into the Nineties already.

The only agency to put its cock on a block in this tired genre was TBWA Hunt Lascaris for Nando’s, the one brand known and justly rewarded for equal opportunity humour. Their “kosher” print and television campaign, which features a red hot chilli pepper with its perky tip cut off, was awarded a few silvers and a gold for its brilliant simplicity.

While I’m feeling more cheerful, there are a few other ads worthy of positive mention. Net#work’s television campaign for Metro FM Radio is short, sexy, to-the-point, gorgeously shot and directed, and pays no lip-service whatsoever to a white audience. Congratulations.

The Jupiter Drawing Room’s (mysteriously invisible) campaign for the Johannesburg Zoo simply features iconic products such as Camel cigarette packs, Zoo biscuits, and Lion matchboxes without their signature animals, with the line “It’s not the same without the animals.” Clever and fresh as the campaign was, the fact that it scooped six awards, including a grand prix, is perhaps indicative of the generally sub- standard quality of the other entries. It also made one wonder at how many other campaigns had been dreamed up for virtual clients.

Speaking of animals, Sun City, the long- standing venue of these cutting edge awards, is a lumbering white elephant that must rate as one of the most hideous progeny of capitalism’s unholy union with apartheid demography. If service staff are not rude, they are practically unconscious, probably because they are tired, underpaid and sick of obnoxious whiteys demanding another brandy and coke.

With a host of huge, well-run Johannesburg venues to compare with, Sun City is a lumbering, filthy, barely managed and extremely costly venue undoubtedly chosen because of old boys’ club deals and the desire to ensure that those who attend can feel distinct from the world for a good 24 hours.

Well done, the Association of Marketers and judges. What you had this year was an awards ceremony that was poorly attended and - aside from the clever Front Row spoof - lacking in creative surprise. You had an unrepresentative, self-congratulatory gang whose most senior representatives mauled the female comperes and insulted their own multiple-award-winning female staff on stage. You had a reactionary, backwards- looking clutch of winners who were awarded for using racist and sexist in-jokes disguised as South African flavour.

Let me put it in language you might understand: you had a tired old organ that failed to rise to the occasion of a new millennium, a new creative zeitgeist, new media and some of the greatest talent this country has to offer. Courage, not complacency, should be the hallmark of this important award.

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